Feature

Out on a limb

El-Castillo-from-below

Around the world there are many people living in tree houses. Pictured here is the El Castillo tree house which is part of an entire tree house community in Costa Rica called the Finca Bellavista, set in 350 acres of rainforest.

Credit: Silke Gondolf

Skytrails at Finca Bellavista

The expansive tree house community of Finca Bellavista is linked by a number of bridges along with their 'Sky Trial' zip line network.

Julia-Butterfly-Hill

Julia 'Butterfly' Hill site on a platform atop a 100-year old giant redwood tree - her home from 1997 for over two years.

Credit: Getty Images

Earth-first-activist-Califonia

An Earth first activist lives in an old growth forest under threat from logging in Califonia in 1996.

Credit: Getty Images

Writers Treehouse

Nestled amongst the Queensland rainforest, this is the humble tree house that the writer, Marion Steinmetz called home for a year.

The Canopy

The Canopy rainforest eco-resort in Cairns is a comfortable, stylish and eco-friendly way to experience living so close to nature in a luxurious tree house.

Credit: The Canopy, Cairns

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The way forward for eco homes?

In a world where land space and resources are increasingly being stretched to the max, are tree houses a viable option for sustainable living? Some believe so, and according to Ethiopian architect Ahadu Abaineh, they could provide the answer to his country's housing crisis. Insufficient housing in urban areas leaves many Ethiopians living in unsanitary conditions. To relieve the incredible pressure on ecological resources to provide adequate conventional housing material, Abaineh proposes homes using living trees as corner posts, frames made from fast-growing eucalypts and traditional mud walls. His designs are quick to build and far cheaper than conventional housing, plus "there's no need for consultants and contractors to satisfy a basic human need," he says. The living trees also help to tackle pollution and improve the appearance of cities. Despite the ingenuity of the idea, it has faced criticism for being a little too 'out there'. Says Abaineh; "I'm negotiating with the municipality, but they think the idea is a little weird."

Tree house getaways:

Many eco resorts are building tree houses to further their appeal. Here's a quick guide to five worth visiting.

1) The Canopy, Cairns Highlands, Australia
This rainforest eco-resort combines luxury accommodation with green living on a 40 hectare property with an abundance of wildlife. They use 100 per cent renewable energy, biodegradable detergents and self-contained disposal systems.

2) Collines de Niassam Lodge, Palmarin, Senegal
Accommodation includes a tree house in a baobab tree, huts on the ground and over water. The African lodge is run on solar and wind power and the owners support their local community through a shop containing local produce and craft for which the lodge takes no commission.

3) Cedar Creek Tree House, Mt Rainier, USA
This solar-powered, no-frills accommodation is nestled next to a stunning national park in Washington State. The tree house is built in a western red cedar tree, with extensive windows providing views of the mountains - or view the skies from an arboreal observatory.

4) Green Magic Resort, Kerala, India
Hop into a water counterweight lift to reach these tree houses, which are close to 30 m off the ground! This company takes the environment seriously: renewable energy is used (the cookers are powered by bullock dung) and meals are made using organic fruit and vegetables grown on site.

5) Gankoyama Tree House Village, Chiba, Japan
This sustainable culture centre offers workshops in forest survival skills and tree house building using traditional Japanese carpentry. The village uses 100 per cent renewable energy and the meals are vegetarian and prepared from organic ingredients, including edible plants from the surrounding forests. And for those who stay a night or two, there is the opportunity to sleep in one of their beautiful tree houses.

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Marion Steinmetz is a freelance writer, now based in Tasmania following a stint in a tree house in the rainforest of Queensland.

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